Modi’s ‘Muslim Problem’: Are Indian Muslims ‘Invaders’, ‘Scumbags’ Or Equal Citizens? – OpEd

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‘Muslims are invaders and thereby, outsiders; thus, have no place in India’, is the core of Modi and his Bharat Janata Party (BJP), the ruling party’s Hindutva policy, an inherently sectarian policy designed mainly to demonize, de-humanize and dispossess Muslims that constitute 14% of India’s population. 

While it is true that some of the Muslims did indeed come to India as invaders and some of these invaders also settled and ruled India over a long period of time, bulk of Indian Muslims are home born, and many are self-chosen converts. Thus, only a fraction of Muslims has come to India as invaders and that two too, more than three centuries ago. In any case, even if the Muslims in India were invaders, the question that must be asked is – are all invaders necessarily bad? 

People have moved from one country to another for centuries, some permanently and some temporarily; some through invasions and others through migration. Even the upper caste Hindus especially the Aryan Brahmins that are at the vanguard of Modi’s sectarian Hindutva movement said to have come from Persia/Central Asia. 

Globally, an historical/political analysis of invasions and invaders reveal following trends: (i) there are those that invaded to loot, plunder and massacre (Zhengis Khan’s invasions in Central Asia; Sultan Mahmud of Gazni and Nadir Shah’s invasions of India etc. etc.); (ii) there are those that invaded, occupied and made occupied land their home and exploited and marginalized the local people through race-based subjugations and dispossessions (English settlers in apartheid South Africa/Zimbabwe); (iii) there are those that invaded, occupied, settled and ruled foreign land through decimation and near-annihilation of local indigenous population (Anglo-Saxons in USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Spanish/ Portuguese in Latin America); (iv) then there were those that invaded, conquered and established colonial administration to exploit and siphon off the wealth of the colonies (British in India and in numerous other former colonies; French in Indo-China and in Africa; Dutch in Indonesia etc;) and finally (v) those that invaded, conquered, settled and adopted the invaded country as their home and contributed to its economic wellbeing, administrative and territorial consolidation and also to its cultural enrichment – the Mughals in India are a good example of this. 

The Mughals, the Muslim rulers of India who mostly belonged to the Sufi brand of Islam (except Aurangzeb) came from Afghanistan, ruled India the longest and impacted Indian society most permanently. In addition to piecing together and consolidating territorially, two/third of what now constitutes India, Mughals introduced a fully functioning decentralized administrative and judicial system; constructed fine infrastructure and irrigation facilities; and nurtured and promoted a blend of art, architecture, literature and music that have since evolved into something that is uniquely Indian. Contribution of the Mughals at economic level to say the least, was astounding – in his book The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective British economist Angus Maddison highlights this by making an important comparison  between the Mughals, the ‘settler/developer invader’ and the British, the ‘colonial/plunderer invader’ of India by pointing out that at the time the Mughal empire fell, India’s share of the world wealth was 24.4 per cent that collapsed to 4.2 per cent the time the British left India. 

Most Mughal emperors (except Aurangzeb) were also very inclusive rulers who treated their subjects equally, without religious bias. For example, Audrey Trushke, in her new book, Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court, documents that the Muslim rule in India – the Mughal period – was in fact, one of “tremendous cross-cultural respect and fertilization.” Trushke further argues that the Hindu/Muslim division in India was not a creation of the Muslim rulers but of the British. 

In sum, Modi’s blanket assertion and stigmatization of all Indian Muslims as invaders as evil is not only downright falsehood but malicious and an affront to the idea of India’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious nationhood. 

Some Indian Hindus also regard Muslims as liars, schemers and as scumbags! Although I would not generalize, I can share a personal experience of mine to illustrate dominance of this perception somewhat. At a social gathering in Colombo, Sri Lanka where I was once posted I told friends how I had to break the lease agreement of a house that we recently rented because the landlord reneged on almost all the contractual obligations.  An Indian gentleman, an upper-caste Hindu from Mumbai who was present at the gathering quipped back saying, “The guy must be a Muslim,” not realizing that I myself was one. The defaulting landlord was not a Muslim but that is beside the point. The point to note here is that there are Indian Hindus who do believe that Muslims are untrustworthy. While these are only perceptions and not generic to all Indian Hindus, given that the perception is quite overwhelming, begets the question, why – why do many Indian Hindus view Muslims so pejoratively and if indeed, there is some truth in these perceptions, why do Muslims behave the way they are alleged to?

Social scientists would argue that in any society where marginalization and discrimination of communities occur along religious, racial and/or in whatever lines and over a long period of time, the marginalized community do tend to take recourse to deviant means to mitigate their hurdles and vent their frustrations in not so civil manner. In India, Muslims and Dalits who have been deprived of their dignity and been subjected to marginalization and stigmatised over a very long period do reveal behavioural attributes that are and can be unpleasant sometime. In this regard, one may recall how similar marginalisation and stigmatization of minorities – the blacks in USA and the Pakis (that included mainly the Bangladeshis) in UK – contributed to unpleasant behavioural patterns among these repressed communities in these countries. But then things got better once policies of inclusion and equal opportunities were introduced in both countries that helped blacks in USA and ethnic minorities in UK to educate themselves, gain in dignity, in self-confidence and self-esteem so much that in USA they have had a black president and in UK there are now several Members of Parliaments from the minority non-white communities and the current Mayor of London, Sadek Khan, is son of a bus driver, a Pakistani immigrant. 

In India, discrimination and marginalization of Muslims were constructed both politically and socially by the colonial British something that in one form or the other have continued to date and this has been aptly acknowledged by Indian government’s 2005 Sachar Committee report (2). The Report has revealed that Muslims are at the lowest socio-economic pile of the Indian society. Therefore, like most marginalized communities anywhere in the world Indian Muslims especially those who are poor demonstrate behavioural attributes that are less civil. In such a situation, what is needed is not furthering of dispossession of Muslims something that Modi government is hell-bent on doing, but inclusion.  

Good news is that just the way America’s and UK’s race relations had to reach their ugliest before they got better, Modi government’s various Muslim dehumanization initiatives, the latest being Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)/National Registration for Citizenship (NRC)(3) which many see as divisive and targeted against Muslims may also be India’s meanest before things get better and there are signs that things may be moving in that direction already. For example, Mr. Chidambaram, India’s former Finance Minister  reports that “The overwhelming majority of protestors [of CAA/NRC] are not Muslims; they are Hindus or belong to other non-Islamic faiths” (4) and more importantly, these protesters are predominantly India’s younger generation particularly women who at the risk of their lives have made it clear that they do not carry the disgraceful communal hangover of some of their elders and that they abhor the idea of Hindu/Muslim divide and discrimination based on religion. 

What is also interesting is that many of these young female protesters who are mainly Hindus say that they do not fear the government as much as they fear their older generation, especially their bigoted parents, notably, dads. Aljazeera reports (5) that a young female protester has claimed that she was not bothered by the riot police who were firing live bullets but was afraid of her “Hindu father finding out her whereabouts and halting her education” as a punishment for joining a protest that favours the Muslims. 

The light in the Modi’s dark tunnel is that these protesters have remained undeterred, basically saying that enough is enough, old ways are not our ways and that Muslims in India are same as everyone else and thus must be treated accordingly equally and with dignity. 

This is promising though at this stage it is not clear whether the virtuous India would eventually prevail over the Modi-indoctrinated vile India. However, what is clear is that if it does not, India may brace itself for a period of prolonged violence, instability and economic slowdown which by all accounts, is already on a free-fall.

Finally, if there is one lesson that Modi and his BJP Hindutva crusaders should draw from Indian history is that sectarian extremism in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country such as India has never worked and therefore, if they insist on continuing their divisive policies, they will fall but not before scarring much of the society or much worse, India itself may disintegrate, one day!  

  1. M. Adil Khan is a retired senior policy manager of the United Nations and Professor of Development Practice, School of Social Science, University of Queensland, Australia Acknowledgement: The article is a revised version of the original, Indian Muslims: Are They ‘Invaders’, ‘Scumbags’ of Equal citizens published in South Asia Journal, December 28, 2019: http://southasiajournal.net/21591-2/
  2. http://prsindia.org/administrator/uploads/general/1242304423~~Summary%20of%20Sachar%20Committee%20Report.pdf
  3. https://www.indiatoday.in/india-today-insight/story/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-the-caa-and-nrc-1630771-2019-12-23
  4. https://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/india-news-caa-nrc-part-of-their-agenda-for-hindu-rashtra-p-chidambaram/302560
  5. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/12/father-hates-muslims-india-law-protests-divide-families-191225033648847.html

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